Long Beach Airport’s Festival of Flight 2021 Recap

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The Festival of Flight returned to the Long Beach Airport. After it got cancelled in 2020 due to the still ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, it returned in 2021. In 2019, I discovered the Festival of Flight more or less by accident as I was working in the area. I made sure that I had the day off to visit it. Little did I know what 2020 would bring.

As Coronavirus restrictions eased up in the Long Beach area, the airport was able to hold the Festival of Flight this year. It is such a great event. In the beginning it was set up that you had to get a timeslot allocated for crowd control and better social distancing. Luckily they dropped this a few weeks before the event and now you could enjoy the show as long as you want with only one restriction.

You had to show the usual 72-hour negative test or your vaccination card that you are fully vaccinated at the time of entry to the event. There was even a rapid testing station right at the event grounds which was set up by the airport specifically for this event.

This years event was less crowded as the one in 2019. Even tho, the airport was prepared with remote parking and shuttle service to the event grounds. Parking was no issue this year, there was plenty of open parking spots available at the lot next to the event entrance. 

Because of the pandemic, the show as a lot smaller with fewer planes and exhibitors. Highlight of this years show was the NASA DC-8. It was the biggest plane at the show. Besides that it was built way back in 1969 here in Long Beach. Unfortunately there were no military planes like in 2019 but for me the NASA DC-8 made up for it. Even though you couldn’t get in the plane and have a look. I talked to the pilots of the planes and all the great missions they fly. This must be a dreamjob. It was so great to have a chat with the NASA people. This is also the main advantage of the Festival of Flight compared to other airshows. It is a more “intimate” event. The pilots and exhibitors are on the ground, you can walk straight up to them and talk with them. There were a couple of planes unattended and just here for the show with no staff. I wish I could have a chat with these pilots too. I only got shots of them when they picked up their planes on Sunday after the event.

NASA McDonnell Douglas DC-8-70 Airborne Laboratory

Besides the static airplanes the event also features live performances on stage as well as interactive stuff like helicopter rides or painting an airplane. Another highlight was the OV-10 Bronco. The owner let you sit in the cockpit and take selfies. This plane always had a huge line of people waiting to get in or take photos of their kids.

North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco

Other exhibitors included local agencies like Police and California Highway Patrol as well as Air Force and even TSA. I could say that the talk to the TSA agents here was one of my best interactions with TSA ever. With lots of foodtrucks on site, you had a great selection if you were getting hungry and thirsty throughout the day. 

If you haven’t been to the Festifal of Flight, you might not know, but the event actually takes place on a taxiway of the airport which got roped off. While the festival is going on, airport operations continued as usual and you got a chance to get extra close to the runway for planespotting. Police and airport security had units posted along the fence line to stop anyone jumping the barriers and getting onto an active runway or other parts of the airport. Unfortunately the last few days were pretty hazy in the Los Angeles area. This wasn’t great for planespotting, especially for planes further down the runway or in the air. But weather is the only thing, that is out of everyone’s control.

During the event, visitors got to see a few surprise aircraft stopping by. First there was the Goodyear blimp “nose-diving” down almost to the ground and floating along the runway before shooting up back into the sky again. This was cool to see and the blimp stopped by a few times during that day.

Goodyear Blimp

The other surprise guest was a US Marines Lockheed Martin KC-130J Hercules. This aircraft is used to refuel other planes mid-air. It parked next to the event grounds and visitors had a good view of it landing and taxing to its parking spot.

US Marines Lockheed Martin KC-130J Hercules

Overall it was a great event and I enjoyed my visit there. I got lucky enough to capture a few of the planes arriving on Friday as well as departing on Sunday. If you are in the area while this event is held, make sure you stop by and enjoy a great day. It’s a must for every aviation enthusiast. I met lots of great people there.

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